Saturday, October 6, 2007

William Tyndale (ca. 1494 – October 6, 1536)

Protestant reformer and Bible Translator William Tyndale died on this day in 1536. As a translator Tyndale is distinguished by two firsts: the first to translate the Bible into early Modern English (John Wycliffe’s work represents Middle English) and the first to distribute by means of the printing press.

About the time that Reformation fires were spreading from the Continent into England, Tyndale was determined to make the Scriptures available in the common vernacular. He believed that it is through the Word of God that people can know God. One of Tyndale’s famous quotes came in the heat of an argument with a clergyman who advised Tyndale that “we had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale replied, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself!" Tyndale ran afoul of not only the Pope’s laws but also England’s since special permission was denied him to translate Scripture into the common language.

Tyndale traveled secretly to Germany to continue his work in hiding. In 1526 the complete New Testament in English was published. These New Testaments were smuggled into England and Scotland and distributed widely. But the Catholic Church confiscated and burned every copy it could find, an event that would foreshadow Tyndale’s own demise when the Church found him.

Friends had helped hide and support William Tyndale during his years of Bible translation, during which he revised his New Testament and translated a portion of the Old Testament. But in 1535, while hiding in Antwerp, Belgium, an English spy pretending to be a needy friend betrayed him to the authorities. Tyndale endured the harsh conditions of prison life in the castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels until his trial. On October 6, 1536 William Tyndale was strangled and then burned at the stake. His last reported words formed a prayer: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes."

The Lord answered that prayer in a way that probably exceeded Tyndale’s expectations. English translations, approved by King Henry VIII and based on Tyndale’s work, soon began appearing on the scene. The King James Version (1611) and many modern versions owe a great debt to Tyndale’s work.

Fluent in seven languages besides his own native English, William Tyndale was a scholar who used his great learning to minister God’s Word to the common people. He had to flee his country and live as a fugitive to accomplish the work God had given him to do. When caught, he had to suffer cold, sickness, deprivation, darkness, and the injustice of a heresy trial. In his death he pleaded in behalf of the Lord’s own work among the people. He reminds me of the men and women in Hebrews 11 who were so mistreated for their faith in Christ. The Divine estimate of them could be William Tyndale’s epitaph: “Of whom the world was not worthy.”

Three things I want to carry away from considering Tyndale’s life and death: 1) whatever abilities God has given me, I want to develop and use them for His glory in the service of His people. 2) Whenever I read the Bible or carry a pocket New Testament, I don’t want to take that privilege for granted but remember what it cost to have the Word of God so available. 3) Lord, help me to be faithful unto death.

See Wikipedia for a good article on Tyndale.

Also there are good articles or biographical chapters in these books:

Sketches from Church History by S.M. Houghton (Banner of Truth, 1980)

The Footsteps of God by John Legg (Evangelical Press, 1986)

Please inform me of other resources on Tyndale.